Luton councillors have given the go-ahead for a 120,000 square metre mixed-use commercial development on an out-of-town greenfield site, despite the project’s conflict with local plan policies.

Luton Borough Council granted outline consent for Luton 2020 Developments’ Newlands Park scheme, comprising 42,000 square metres of offices and 37,000 square metres of shops. The application, approved earlier this week, also proposes a 16,000 square metre leisure hub, a 13,000 square metre hotel, 8,500 square metres of restaurants, and public open space.

Officers recommended approval after concluding that “the benefits of the proposal outweigh the non-compliance with the development plan and the less than substantial harm to heritage assets”.

The 16 hectare site is allocated in the Luton local plan for “a prestige gateway development” which can “meet an identified shortfall in office employment use over the plan period”.

Officers advised that the mix of uses meant the application did not conform to the council’s policy allocation for the site. They also stated that the proposed development would meet retail need in Luton but this “would be providing the required floorspace in an out of centre location rather than within the town centre” as specified in the local plan.

However, officers noted that consent for the Luton Town FC stadium development was granted on a site allocated in part for retail development. Use of this site for a stadium would mean the National Planning Policy Framework’s sequential test for town centre uses would be satisfied, officers said.

A condition will be imposed that prevents occupation of retail and leisure floorspace at Newlands Park until the Power Court development has been completed to ‘podium level’. Officers cited benefits including the provision of office floorspace, job creation, and the ability to “claw back” retail expenditure “leaking” to Houghton Regis, Milton Keynes and Watford.

They advised “It is considered that with the Section 106 retail restrictions proposed, the development is unlikely to have significant adverse impact upon the vitality and viability of Luton, St Albans and Harpenden town centres”.

The application will be referred to the secretary of state for final approval.

22 March 2019